Two Central York student activists testify before Congress on book ban

York Dispatch

Two of the students who spoke out against Central York School District's book ban testified before a congressional subcommittee Thursday.

"Banning books of those of a minority or unique background silences their voices and erases their history," Christina Ellis told the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. "And arguably it is taking away their right to express themselves."

Members of the Panther Anti-Racist Union. From left to right, Patricia Jackson, Renee Ellis, Olivia Pituch, Christina Ellis, Ben Hodge and Edha Gupta. Photo credit by Panther Anti-Racist Union.

Ellis was one of a group of students who led protests after The York Dispatch broke the story of Central York's ban targeting books, movies and other teaching materials primarily by creators of color.

The school board ultimately rescinded the ban and, in November, several reform-minded candidates were swept into office.

Central York's ban, however, was indicative of a larger nationwide trend in which elected officials try to censor speech and ban works addressing racism, white supremacy, LGBTQ issues and anything else deemed uncomfortable.

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Panther Anti-Racist Student Union organizer Edha Gupta hugs union member Olivia Pituch, left, at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Bill Kalina photo

"The vast majority of books being targeted for censorship are not mandatory or part of the curriculum for students to read," said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who chairs the subcommittee. "They are books of choice — students can pull them off the shelves if they want to and check them out.  Or they can ignore them entirely."

Fellow Central York student Olivia Pituch also testified before Congress.

“Many kids find refuge in going to school and being within an inclusive community," she said. "But as education on inclusion slips away, the safe haven does too. I have heard slurs being thrown around, LGBTQ+ kids being made fun or verbally abused, and more.”

For her part, Pituch plans to continue her activism.

Last month, she told The York Dispatch she plans to pursue her four-year degree at Elizabethtown College, with a goal of being a diversity specialist in a school, or working for a nonprofit or joining a government official's political team.